Studies Explore Brain Changes That Can Cultivate or Curb Common Addictions
WASHINGTON, DC— Research released today reveals new information on the mechanisms and brain regions involved in some of the most prevalent addictions — including alcohol, nicotine, and cannabis — and suggests new approaches to treating these major public health problems. The findings were presented at Neuroscience 2014, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience and the world’s largest source of emerging news about brain science and health.
An estimated 3.3 million people worldwide die each year from the harmful effects of alcohol abuse. An additional 6 million people die as a result of tobacco use. Marijuana, used by 147 million people, is the world’s most prevalent recreational drug and has been shown to increase risk for the development of neuropsychiatric disorders such as depression and schizophrenia.
Today’s new findings show that:
- Pairing exposure to the scent of cigarettes with unpleasant smells, known as “aversive conditioning,” while people sleep may curb smoking (Anat Arzi, abstract 678.07, see attached summary).
- The menthol added to many cigarettes affects the way brain responds to nicotine, which may explain why menthol smokers are less likely to quit smoking than non-menthol smokers (Brandon Henderson, PhD, 231.30, see attached summary).
- Activation of a specific brain circuit appears to dampen the drive to drink alcohol in rats (Zayra Millan, PhD, 756.01, see attached summary).
- An animal study suggests that cannabis use during adolescence alters brain signaling into adulthood and builds on previous research seeking to explain the link between cannabis abuse and disorders such as schizophrenia (Ed Korzus, PhD, 656.18, see attached summary).
“Many of the most powerful drugs of abuse are legal, yet their effects on individual and public health are profound,” said moderator Marina Picciotto, PhD, an expert in the molecular basis of behavior at Yale University in New Haven, Conn. “The findings reported today demonstrate the span of approaches, both molecular and behavioral, that are being used to fully understand the mechanisms underlying addiction and its treatment.”
This research was supported by national funding agencies such as the National Institutes of Health as well as other private and philanthropic organizations. Find out more about addiction at BrainFacts.org.